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3 Tips for Asking for $ in Tough Times

Matt Lerhman, founder of Social Prosperity Partners, tackled your top questions in his recent webinar, How to Ask for $ in Tough Times. We asked him to share the juiciest bits here. 

Targeting prospective donors—yes or no?

If you’ve ever run a marathon, you understand the adage that you don’t do anything during the race that you haven’t specifically trained for in advance. The same is true for fundraising in this period of uncertainty. Some nonprofits (and I see this a lot in animal welfare) have a long history of sending out solicitation campaigns, by mail or email, to new prospective donors.  So, if your organization has been doing that—say, monthly or quarterly—for years, and you’ve developed a solid track record for your rate of return, then I’d suggest continuing the effort. You’ll certainly want to pay attention to the future rate of return statistics, but if your message and methodology have been solid, the risk of failure seems low.  

However, I’m hearing from a lot of nonprofit fundraisers who (for all-too-understandable reasons) are wondering whether they should start such efforts right now. It’s to these organizations that I recommend extreme caution. The only thing worse than not investing in a campaign is investing in one out of desperation.  It’s a more prudent investment to start by writing to, say, 100, new prospective donors (perhaps using an A/B testing methodology to measure the relative effectiveness of your message) and build up from there.        

Virtual fundraising—here today or here to stay?

In the short term, learning how to conduct virtual fundraising is essential. In the long term, I don’t know. Nobody knows if or when it might fade away. But that’s really not the question. In the webinar I say that I refuse to call the moment we are in the “new normal.” Let’s save that for whenever the time comes that we feel confident in organizing for the near term and planning for the long term—for when we are ready to bring out the big guns of “strategy.” For now, we exist in what I call the “raw normal.” In the raw normal, our job is to understand what’s going on, make adjustments on the fly, and celebrate that we survived another day. That’s why my webinar focuses on tactics. That’s what will get us through. And in this moment, the tactic of virtual fundraising is obvious. With necessity being the mother of invention, there’s a lot of inventing going on right now. That’s exciting if you’re willing to approach it with a strong dose of optimism, flexibility, and endurance. Whether virtual fundraising is a fad that will fade away is akin to asking, “What’s the use, the sun is going to burn out in a few billion years anyway.” In this moment, this is your opportunity. Seize it.         

Creative fundraising partnerships and ideas for virtual events

I mentioned a large number of these examples in the webinar itself.  If you haven’t watched it already, you’ll find it here.

Beyond that, I’d like to invite you to the Facebook Group I created (it’s called “Crisis Engagement”) in which more than 300 nonprofit leaders from all sorts of organizations (animal welfare, arts & culture, religious, conservation, education, social services, and more) have answered the question, “What is ONE THING that is working in your fundraising right now?”  There is opportunity for a vast amount of sharing. Together we can all get smarter and more effective in how we engage our donors and sustain our organizations.  Here’s a direct link to the Facebook Group, and I’ll see you there!

More from Matt

Webinar: How to Ask for $ in Tough Times
COVID-19 Leadership Lessons: What’s More Important than Your Mission Statement?


Matt Lehrman

From a 20+ year career in nonprofit management, Matt Lehrman founded Social Prosperity Partners, a practice devoted to uniting leaders in endeavors of great imagination and initiative. He has consulted and presented workshops on donor & stakeholder engagement, audience development, civic engagement, and loyalty & customer engagement throughout the US and UK.


'3 Tips for Asking for $ in Tough Times' have 2 comments

  1. June 17, 2020 @ 2:31 pm Carla M Stroud

    Can’t access the webinar through any of the links. I am prompted to register, but it only directs me to a page that says the event has ended. There does not seem to be an option to view the recording, since I know the webinar occurred in May.

    — Carla, the link has been updated. You may register for the recording – please note you’ll need to log into The Learning Center and/or create a login first before you can register. Thanks, Valerie Sheppard, The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement, learning@theaawa.org

  2. June 18, 2020 @ 2:18 pm Dave Eikelberg

    Very timely. I am in the process of developing a fundraising approach for an international canine organization. With everyone worried about Covid-19 it is a challenge trying to imagine reasons why potential supporters should give us their financial support when the possibility exists that they could be seen as insensitive to the human condition. Your thoughts?


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